Queer eel bodies and queering as method: disrupting instrumental knowledge through feminist new materialism

Year: 2021

Author: Dollin, Jen

Type of paper: Symposium

Educational researchers working within feminist new materialist and post-human concepts are exploring alternative methodologies that challenge human exceptionalism and traditional representations of a single fixed reality.  My doctoral research - a multispecies ethnography with my local river - grapples with this post-qualitative methodological reconfiguration and questions conventional notions of data, data analysis, writing and representation. This presentation from ‘Eel Worlds of the Hawkesbury Nepean’ shares my work/attempts to engage critically with scientific approaches to knowledge production through feminist new materialism. The ubiquitous freshwater river eel challenges and confounds mainstream scientific thinking and evolutionary biology with its set pathways of genetic pre-determination and hereditary factors. Eel bodies are wondrously queer, resisting human scientific quests for certainty about their sexual development and sex lives for centuries. Inspired by multispecies scholarly critique that asks us redirect focus to the materiality of lived experience in our shared biophysical world and to open up to the challenge of intellectual synthesis I approach an eel body dissection as a research event. In moving to this method of materiality, I am queering and questioning the way ‘science is done.’ In this lab/eel world a dead science specimen becomes an embodied, lively subject as I move beyond the purely instrumental science relationship between humans and more than humans. This lab/eel world is a bloody tableau of intra-acting bodies – alive, dead, frozen, thawing, warm, metallic always changing, flesh intra-acting with technology. The work is framed as emergent and is a slippery attempt to push beyond the traditional boundaries of ethnographic methods, to not just appropriate scientific knowledge but to combine and integrate research practices. I respectfully queer the conventional binary science of knowing to wonder how methods can make some worlds visible and obscure others. It is in this way I reimagine educational research.